The long wait is finally over. Come October 5, Namira Salim will go sub-orbital on a Virgin Galactic flight that she purchased as one of the pioneering space tourists 17 years ago. She will become the first female UAE resident and Pakistan's first female space tourist.

For Namira, the almost two decades of waiting will no longer matter as she will make spaceflight history next month. Her trip will not only be a realisation of her life-long dream of going to the edge of space and back, but will also bolster the popularisation of space tourism.

Khaleej Times caught up with Namira at her Dubai residence on Thursday, a couple of days before travelling to the launch site at Spaceport America in New Mexico. She was relaxed and composed when she narrated the preparations and adventures she has done before the flight. But she turned emotional when she shared the inspiration for her dream of reaching space.

It was her late father, a former Pakistani Army official, who inspired her, and it is only fitting that her upcoming flight would be dedicated to him. "My father was the one who first showed me the Pole Star. He taught me the constellations of the night sky for navigational purposes and he inspired me – at a very young age – to reach for the stars," Namira told Khaleej Times while holding a brooch she personally designed in the form of Ursa Minor or Little Dipper.

"I grew up as a little girl in Pakistan looking up at the night sky. And when we moved to the UAE in the 1980s, I also spent my youth looking up the stars," she added.

That inspired Namira to dream big and become adventurous. In 2006, she became the first UAE resident to purchase a suborbital flight ticket from Sir Richard Branson's space venture. She paid $200,000, which was less than half the reported current price of $450,000 for a seat on a Virgin Galactic flight. Between then and now, she kept her adventurous self busy by conquering the North and South Poles. She also became the first Asian and first Pakistani to skydive over Mount Everest.

For her achievements, Namira was recognised as the first Pakistani astronaut by the government of Pakistan in 2006, and she served as honourary ambassador of tourism for Pakistan the following year. She also became a peace activist and was conferred with 'Tamgha-e-Imtiaz' (Medal of Excellence) in 2011 by the President of Pakistan.

Namira also holds great pride in representing three countries – the UAE, Pakistan and Monaco (where Namira is also a long-time resident) – for her upcoming space flights. Explaining some of the elements of the Galactic Four mission patch, Namira said the little girl pointing to the stars represents her, and the crescent moon represents Pakistan. The patch also symbolises the crew who are working together for the betterment of humanity.

On their way up, the passengers will experience up to four times the force of the Earth's gravity, known as 4G. Then, they will enter almost zero gravity and experience four minutes of weightlessness aboard the spaceplane VSS Unity.

It would be an exhilarating experience, no doubt, Namira said and vowed that she will share more in detail when she returns back to Earth after her historic journey.

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